An Interview with Andrew Dobbie


Andrew Dobbie is a teacher with the Peel District School Board.  To get his attention, all that you have to do is express an interest in sustainable activities or reusing computers for the benefit of students.  I had the opportunity to interview Andrew.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Andrew.  My first question is always the same; do you recall the first time that we met in person?

Andrew: Thanks for inviting me to chat Doug! My memory is fading in old age🤣 but I believe we first met when BIT was held in Toronto before the shift to Niagara Falls.

Doug:  We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a long time.  Why would you want to follow me?

Andrew:  I thought it was pretty obvious why people follow you, Doug.  You help me sift through current media and provide me with useful, sometimes actionable resources each week🙌

Doug:  Your passion for sustainable things is very evident to anyone who follows you on social media.  Can you give us a sense of where your passion is with this?

Andrew: The root of my passion for sustainability is in providing learners with a quality education through equitable access to computers in their classrooms.  My students needed help, so I researched a way to help them. Then, my students and I agreed that we should help everyone else.

Granted, the supportive team working with us exists throughout North America, Europe (in its infancy) and Iceland. We all work together to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Doug:  My interest in following you comes from the conversations and interactions that we’ve had online dealing with Linux.  You use it to breathe new life into old technology, often discarded. My interest was personal. I just wanted an alternative to Windows 10 for my 2010 Sony Vaio laptop. 

Do you use Linux personally?

Andrew: Yes! I use Linux every day with my students. I am also well versed in Win10 and MacOS too🤣  I need to be comfortable with all operating systems because some of my students bring in their own devices and I need to be able to assist them with daily operational challenges/troubleshooting.  I also dabble a bit with Android OS too just for fun. More along the lines of experimenting with converting different computing devices into hybrids running other operating systems. I’ve built some ChrMacbooks, converted old Windows computers into Linux devices, and even built one of the largest Android boxes using a massive desktop computer (as a joke- and it continues to be in operation today🤣).

Doug:  Now, when a person dips their toe into the world of Linux, it can be a bit frightening.  Long time Linux users go back to working the command line. apt-get, sudo, etc. Did you start that far back?

Andrew: I remember when I first tried terminal coding. I had no idea what I was doing. I have no formal training at all. Just YouTube, blogs, and Google Hangout guidance from a Linux expert, Aaron Prisk👍  

Aaron continues to be a very patient and supportive teacher. He listens to my coding frustrations and helps me to find parallel understanding between our common language and that of terminal coding. I started to learn the verbs of the language and it helped me learn how to install, move, package, and assembly Aaron’s student-tailored Xubuntu OS.  I still haven’t met Aaron in person. All our work has been completed remotely via Hangouts, Facebook IM, and now mainly via text message. So, yes. I use raw code in the terminal when constructing Linux FOG Servers and student-tailored Linux workstations.

Doug:  Linux comes in many flavours.  My first distribution was Ubuntu 4.04 and then the Edubuntu fork.  What was your first?

Andrew: Oh wow! You’ve been at it a little longer than me. I started with Cub Linux and Lubuntu initially because they were packed so small and could fit on a 2GB USB for installations.  Then, as I started dabbling with install on many different systems, I worked all the way back through history to Ubuntu 10, BSD, Linux plop, and all flavours after Ubuntu 10. Over the past 3 years, I have used and installed dozens of flavours to learn more about their unique strengths and differences but followed Aaron’s lead in using Xubuntu 16.04 for the first version of the student-tailored workstations.

Doug:  Since that time, I’ve changed my allegiance and now run Linux Mint.  What’s your favourite distribution?

Andrew: My friend Ryan, who is a data analyst and Linux junky, loves Mint too but my favourite continues to be Xubuntu because it provides me with all the necessary packaging tools to create the Linux student workstations.

Doug:  You talk about using Xubuntu.  Why this distribution?

Andrew:  Aaron Prisk introduced me to Xubuntu (a developer version of Linux) because he was already using it to create his own districts’ student image for all of their computers in Pennsylvania.  Lucky for me he was working through the process when I showed interest in learning it, and he took me under his wing (so to speak).

Doug:  It’s golden when you find someone with that amount of interest and patience. If someone else was interested in getting started in this area, how do they get started?

Andrew:  If anyone wants to learn how to install any Linux operating system, then I would suggest beginning with the USB installation technique.  We created a gForm to walk new learners through the process:

bit.ly/reimagewithlinux

It’s a little dated but it will help guide a new learner through the process.

Doug:  I like the way that you’ve used the Google Form as a tutorial for the end user. Well done.

You’ve forged a number of partnerships over the year, especially with Renewed Computer Technology of Ontario (RCTO).  How does that work?

Andrew: rcto.ca is an outstanding not-for-profit business who provide learning facilities with free desktop computers.  Initially, I needed computers in my classroom because our school didn’t have the budget for them and I couldn’t afford to buy them. RCT Ontario helped us.  We were lucky because they had tons of available computers back in 2016 when we first asked. They also had lots of LCD displays, which are a hot commodity and not easily available currently.

Essentially, if any learning facility needs free desktop computers, then they need to go to rcto.ca and request them. You will need to fill in a few online forms but be sure to request the free computers. They do offer some very affordable paid computer options as well (including a 1 year warranty), so they are a much better idea than buying new.  The first batch of 150 desktops we received for free in 2016 is STILL in service, supporting student learning needs in our classrooms!

RCT will also be happy to answer your questions by telephone too, so if you need help just call them.

In September, I was asked to assist their IT department in establishing a Linux line of free computers, so I created a Xubuntu 16.04 FOG Server clone, and a Xubuntu 18.04 FOG Server clone. Both of which can deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system on any computer 10 years old or newer.

Doug:  One of the stumbling blocks that some might have with school districts is putting non-district computers on the network.  How have you handled that?

Andrew: All school boards have always been open to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, so we explored and found success with multiple school boards by signing Linux computers onto board networks as BYOD devices. I was invited to York Catholic and Toronto Catholic boards to show their IT department heads how this process can work, and at that time (in 2017-2018 I believe) I created FOG Server clones for them to more efficiently deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system onto their computers. 

I think it’s important to note that all of this is free, and always will be.

Doug:  That’s always been the claim for Linux and there are so many talented people driving that ship. We could always remind them that the Chromebooks that people buy new are running ChromeOS which is based on the Linux kernel!

How do you address concerns from teachers that running Linux doesn’t given them all of the applications that they would have on a Macintosh or Windows computer?

Andrew: Most teachers and students are running cloud-based programs these days anyway.  My students never have a problem using Linux to run any gSuite, Office365, or any other web-based tools like Scratch, Robocompass, Explorelearning.com, you name it.  They all work!

Some teachers have asked for special photo editing tools, so I showed them how pixlr.com runs perfectly through Google Chrome, and is easy for students to use.

Essentially, if an educator is resourceful enough, then he/she will find a comparable and free software tool that will run on their Linux systems. Yes, Minecraft too👍

Doug:  Your plan also involves your students.  How much training do they require before they are experts?

Andrew:  Experts? Hmmm. I’m not an expert and they would say they aren’t either, I think.  However, after having about a month or 2 of troubleshooting exposure and experience within our Tech Stewardship program, our Stewards are able to repurpose old computers easily.  In fact, 3 of our newest Stewards just repurposed a teacher’s old laptop this past week and they just started in the program in September.

Granted, our Xubuntu FOG Server does make the repurposing process extremely easy to transform multiple computers into Linux machines with only a few key strokes.  

Doug:  What is the minimum requirement for a computer to be refurbished for your purposes?  Do you limit it to old Windows computers or have you put Linux on Macintosh computers?

Andrew:  Current minimum requirements for excellent performance running our Linux image would be 4GB RAM and about a 2.4GHz processor (not that much really). It will run fine with only 2GB of RAM as well but 4GB RAM and learners WANT to use Linux instead of brand new computers because they are faster.

Also, I recommend installing our Xubuntu student-tailored operating system on computers 10 years old or newer.  Older than 10 years and we usually run into compatibility issues with hardware drivers and hardware begins to fail at times.

At this point in time, we have FOG Servers that can deploy Linux onto Windows computers easily.  Regarding Macs, students love ChroMacbooks the most, and I used to hand code each one because the FOG server wasn’t designed for Macs😓. Each student-tailored ChroMacbook took about 2 hours to code about a year ago.  Now, I simply open up the Mac. Remove the hard drive. Put the Mac hard drive into a windows computer. Change the hard drive to Linux using the FOG Server, then put it back into the Mac👍 Only takes about 15 minutes depending on the build.

Doug:  You will be doing a session at the upcoming Bring IT, Together Conference.  Can you give us a sneak peek?

Andrew: A sneak peek😕 

(FREE COMPUTERS!)  

On Wednesday morning, I will be bringing some of my special FOG Servers to make FOG Server clones for anyone that wants one.  You just need to bring an old laptop (that turns on🤣) with you, and stop by. I will even show you how easy it is to use it. You can use it on site to repurpose any other laptops you bring with you🙌

When I’m not teaching the process, I can repurpose up to 50 computers an hour by myself. So, if you just want some help repurposing your laptops for student use in your classrooms, then bring them by on Wednesday morning.

I will also be sharing some of our work highlights at IgniteBit2019 on Wednesday evening, so feel free to connect with me there too👍

If you can’t attend the Wednesday session, then my students will be joining me on Friday morning to help attendees repurpose their computers with Linux too. So, we can build you a FOG server or student-tailored Linux laptop at that time as well.

Finally, I believe I will be bringing lots of free mini desktop computer towers for attendees to take back to their classrooms for their students to use.  These mini desktop towers have been donated by rcto.ca and will include the tower, keyboard, mouse, and power cords (but unfortunately not LCD monitors due to short supply at the warehouse).

Doug:  Wow. Come to Bring IT, Together and leave with a free computer. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Andrew.  If people want to follow you on Social Media, where would they turn?

Some great ways to start connecting:

Ethical


If you ever review program submissions to a computer (and probably any other) conference, there are bound to be a number dealing with Ethical Computing. Or Ethical Hacking. Or Ethics and Computer Use. Or a number of other things. I always like to ask “Whose ethics” when working with colleagues doing the evaluation. These are fascinating sessions to attend, especially when the topic turns to “Any questions” and you get to stand up and say “Yeah, but”.

I have a presentation that I’ve given on the topic myself. It’s a chance to stand up and tell everyone why you’re right… until you ask is there are any questions! But, I would suggest that if there are 100 people wanting to talk about Ethical, there are close to 100 different definitions of what it actually is.

You might even want to take a course on Ethical Hacking. I know that many IT Departments do this to toughen the security of their systems.

There are a number of uses of the term “Ethical” and you can find them here at the Merriam-Webster site. Or, go to your own favourite dictionary definition site.

I realized, once I installed my first Linux system and started to interact with others that there’s a whole other world out there with their own definition of “Ethical”. No longer was it based upon the sorts of thing that we talk about in computer usage in schools.

  • don’t share passwords
  • don’t log into a system as someone else
  • if you are co-owners of a website, don’t change content without permission
  • don’t write code with the intent of hurting another’s computing experience
  • don’t write code that circumvents a situation that you don’t know the answer to
  • don’t create a “fake” account on a system and pretend to be someone else

The list goes on for quite a way and I’m sure that you have your own set of Ethical values when you’re online.

As computing has evolved and become more sophisticated, so does identifying and dealing with Ethical issues. Answers that seemed so simple have become so complicated.

I’ve had this tab open in my browser for a while now and I poke around looking and evaluating (for myself), the messages and topics addressed. The site is ethical.net.

Their take on a definition…

I think when I first dropped in on the site, it was by doing some research about web browsers. And, sure enough, in the resources section, you’ll find a list of web browsers that have been identified as being “ethical” by the site’s definition.

Throughout the resources section, there are some things that you’ll recognize but I’ll bet there are plenty that will be new for you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a rationale given why something makes the list or why something else didn’t.

For me, of course, I enjoyed poking around wondering about what’s there and what’s not there. If you’re interested in things dealing with privacy and ethics, I’d encourage you to click through and do some exploring on your own.

As always, for any presentation or blog post – Any questions or opinions? That’s what the reply feature is for!

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Happy First Friday of 2019.

Please read and enjoy this selection from Ontario Edubloggers.


Chocolate by Trial and Error

Sheila Stewart writes a post that will bring out your inner Julia Child. It’s a real departure from her regular posts – the previous one was about Effective School Councils – but still an interesting read.

As we conclude the holidays, we might be looking back at the great (and sweet) treats from the past couple of weeks.

If you’re looking for something to bake this weekend, and you enjoy chocolate, Sheila shares her recipe for a Chocolate Mint Pie.


Hack the Classroom 2018

There are people’s favourite venues for showing off the latest and greatest things that kids can do. Unlike exhibitor sessions with professionals and pre-planned scripts, it’s always interesting to see what students can actually do when you give them the right tools.

As Zélia Capitão-Tavares notes …

WE need to create opportunities to immerse students within the Global Competencies to develop deep learning through experiences that integrate creativity, inquiry and entrepreneurship.

What leapt from this post as interesting, innovative, and true to Zélia’s premise above was a group of students developing games that students in the Deaf & Hard of Hearing classes could enjoy. The Micro:Bit was the tool of choice.

When you think about how much games depend upon background music and audio feedback to players, I’m sure that the students the games were designed for felt a great sense of being included.


The best present is one you can give year round

From the Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning Blog, Will Gourley shares an inspirational message for 2019.

Through the holiday season, there are charities and causes at every turn using the holiday season as inspiration for garnering support. Many try to get enough to sustain them through the upcoming year.

Although, traditional presents are nice, it has been my experience to savour the moments when we are able to strengthen our class community through quality time together. Long after the sweetness of a treat or period off for a movie has been forgotten, students remember being part of something special that benefitted others.

So, what would be the “something special”?

Read the post to get some ideas and inspiration that are both timely and most definitely worthwhile and would be well appreciated.


Fill Your Own Cup With Gratitude

Before reading Ramona Meharg’s blog post, I might have offered February as being the toughest of months in education but she builds the case for November. The holiday-less month.

Through a series of events, you can’t help but show empathy for what she describes and it might well be that you are/were in the same case.

Ramona’s solution was to reach out to her Marigold for support.

and a cup of tea?

If you have experienced the same thing and can offer a solution or just to share a story, Ramona’s looking for it in her comments.


An Oscar-esque thank you speech type of blog post

Or, maybe you could make an Oscar type speech to appreciate those things that have gone right and those who have been so supportive like Melanie Lefebvre did.

The big message in this post is the “autonomy” that educators have. Sure, everyone has curriculum and standards and content and … that have to be covered. That’s why we have courses and grades. But, the “how” of doing it honours the autonomy concept. That makes teaching the greatest of professions.

In the post, Melanie acknowledges …

  • Dean
  • JACS team?
  • IT Department
  • The Hub?
  • Health and Safety
  • Maintenance Team
  • Library
  • P and VP of Academics

as contributing to her success in the beginning of this new career for her.

It’s probably a good activity for all to do with a personal reflection that nobody can do it alone in education.

In typical Oscar fashion, after a while the music starts!


Making the Shift Toward Tracking Observations

Here’s advice from the bottom of the post from Heather Theijsmeijer …

This may feel like a lot of work, however keep in mind that not only does this process get easier over time (remember how much longer it took you to set a test when you first started teaching?), but the point of assessing observations is that it can replace a product-based assessment, on the road to triangulating sources of evidence. This is not meant to be done in addition to your current stack of marking. 

Hands up if you remember the days when final grades were calculated and assigned through three tests and a final examination.

That pretty much includes anyone who ever went through the school system 10-20 years ago and then to university. I still remember a picture from a university newspaper showing hundreds of students at desks in the gym writing final exams and the caption “Here, you’re just a number”.

How things have changed and we now focus on daily observations and progression towards understanding course expectations. In this post, Heather offers some suggestions, including a link to a previous post, as inspiration. Yes, there are brand names included but it shouldn’t take a huge leap to recognize that there are other products that you have access to that will have the same or better functionality.


Addition of double digit numbers

What if you threw a party and nobody came?

That was my first reaction when I read this post from Lisa Corbett.

She had her class all set and prepped to move along to number lines.

The best laid plans…

As I walked around I could see lots of kids with lots of right answers but no number lines. “How are they doing this??” I wondered. So I asked. And I was amazed! So many of them were using the mental math strategy of splitting. They thought about how many ones there were in each number, and how many tens were in each number, then they found a total.

I hope that she felt good that they had mastered their previous learning and felt confident enough to use it in this new situation.

So, what do you do?

To use a football analogy, you drop back 10 and punt.

You’ll have to click through to see Lisa’s professional judgement click in!


What a lovely collection of blog posts to finish off the Christmas Break. Please take the time to click through and enjoy them. And, drop off a comment or two if you’re so inspired.

If you’re an Ontario Edublogger and not on the Livebinder, please click through and add the link to your blog.

Then, follow the great bloggers references in this post.

This post appears at:

https://dougpete.wordpress.com

If you found it anywhere else, it’s not the original.

Pre #BIT14 Interview with Derrick Schellenberg and Brian Aspinall


Michelle Cordy (@cordym on Twitter) continued her series of interviews leading to the Bring IT, Together Conference in Niagara Falls on November 5-7, 2014.

Last night, she talked to Derrick Schellenberg (@Mr_Schellenberg) and Brian Aspinall (@mraspinall) about their sessions.  This time, the focus was on inquiry in the classroom.  Both Derrick and Brian have TLLP projects and they served as the basis for the interview.

It was a rainy, rainy night here last night and I was unable to get a good, reliable connection to watch the interview live last night.  There are parts of the interview where internet connections were definitely an issue.  I guess I don’t have a monopoly on that.  Anyway, you can enjoy the interview since it was recorded.

Look for shout outs to Royan Lee, David Fife, and James Cowper and their blogs.

Michelle’s previous interviews leading into the #BIT14 conference…

Microsoft Windows and me


On my drive home yesterday, I heard on the radio about this being the big weekend to preview Microsoft Windows 7.  One reviewer’s first impressions are available here.

While still focused on driving, my mind did start to wander about my history with Windows.  Like everyone these days, the household does have a computer or two hanging around.  Like everyone, we keep looking forward to the day when these things truly become appliances and just work.  But, that hasn’t happened yet and so I continue to look for the closest thing.

Due to the nature of my work, I need to know about these things so that I can understand and assist folks who are working at home.  So, it should come as no surprise that I have Windows, Mac OS, and Ubuntu installed and working at various places. But, today, it’s all about Windows.

I foresaw the end of civilization when Windows, version 1, was released.  After all, real computer users worked with the command line.  We knew about switches and pathnames and attrib and the lot.  We actually knew where stuff was stored and how it worked.  We knew the difference between batch files, .com files, and .exe files.  A year earlier, I had attended the MACUL conference and saw a demonstration of the Lisa computer.  Pfffft.  It’s just a scam to get people who didn’t know about computers to buy one. Well… So, over the years, I was proved wrong over and over.

Windows 3 – it was here that I became convinced that I was wrong and perhaps this mouse stuff would catch on.  Windows 3.1 allowed for some interesting graphical displays and working with computers did become interesting for the masses.  Lots of breakthroughs.  There was even the concept of networking with Windows for Workgroups!

Windows 95 – just a glorified version of Windows 3, they say.  Well, there’s got to be more to it than that.  After all, revisions going from 3 to 95 had to mean something.  It really did.  Windows 95 was actually an OS in itself and you didn’t have to buy MS-DOS to sit under it.

Windows 98 – my biggest and fondest memory of Windows 98 was that it became mobile with USB support.  I still remember paying $128 for a 32MB memory key.  It was cutting edge and the concept of carrying your data from one computer to the next was really exciting.

Windows ME – somewhere around this time, we bought a new home computer and it came with this OS.  Had to install it, of course.  You couldn’t foresake the latest and greatest.  For my money, this was much to do about nothing.  Maybe I just didn’t install it properly.

Windows NT – How could you make life more confusing and complicated?  Why not take all of these machines and network them?  Delving into this field with NT and Windows 2000 added to the learning curve.  Properly configured, you could do some amazing things in terms of performance and also managing decent sized networks.

Windows XP – This still is the standard for our workstations in our schools.  It’s a real workhorse and most developers have written or re-written their code so that it runs under Windows XP without hassles.  For the first time, when you buy software, you really don’t have to ask the obligatory, “Will it run under…?” But, Windows XP is now eight years old!

Computer use has become so much more sophisticated and the hardware and software needs to take advantage of these changes and so we have Windows Vista.  Is this eye candy or what?  I seem to be one of the few people that actualy like and use it regularly.  Of course, the “experts” won’t run it until at least service pack 3, if at all, and are very vocal about it.  Heck, they even recommend taking a perfectly tuned new computer and putting Windows XP on it. They may not get a chance with Windows 7 on the horizon.  It looks interesting and I’ll be waiting to hear the reviews about it this weekend during the official preview launch.

Will I be switching to Windows 7?  Quite probably to stay on top of the latest and most current. So, it’s been an interesting haul.  With all that I’ve messed with, there were even more versions of Windows that I missed.  See the complete timeline here.

Along this timeline, the concept of numbers sure has gone astray.  By my count, we’re beyond version 7 of this GUI interface, aren’t we? Oh, man….  just a quick review of the above reminds me that I forgot about Windows BOB and CE.

Thank goodness I am a lifelong learner!

Social Bookmarks:

Powered by ScribeFire.

What to do now?


This year, more than ever, there was so much followup discussion following the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee’s Symposium.

I must admit that I’m taken aback by the tone of some of the comments,  There are comments like “I doubt that things will change” and “Here are reasons why it won’t work” and “I’m concerned about equity” and “It’s all the Technical Department’s” fault and probably more than what I know about.

I think of this powerful quote.  A good friend of mine uses it as the default tagline on all of her messages.

“Our task is to provide an education for the kind of kids we have… Not the kind of kids we used to have… Or want to have… Or the kids that exist in our dreams.”  Mary Kay Utecht

It’s not a big leap to translate “kids” to “technology” and “connectivity” and “access”.

As educators, we face challenges every single day.  Many of these challenges are imposed from the outside and there’s not always things that we can do about it.  But, we need to embrace and take charge of those things that we can’t challenge.  I truly hope that the discussion was meant to be sensational and spark some conversation.  I hope that folks aren’t going to roll over and say “We can’t do it because things aren’t right…”

Things will never be right.  Things will never be perfect for all people.

There are challenges all over the place.  Yes, I get frustrated that I can’t just hop onto Google Images when I need an image for a presentation or a document.  But, you know what…there are plenty of other sources for images that are available to me.

I hope desperately that the comments are borne in the desire to do the very best that we can and that there is optimistic hope that we’re moving in the right direction.  Things in education can be slow to move but they are moving.  I found out recently that the Ontario Mathematics teachers will soon have professional development surrounding Web 2.0 technologies in the Intermediate Years’ mathematics classrooms.  This isn’t something that would be easy to predict a few years ago but we have contemporary educators like Ross Isenegger of Mathfest who know what’s right and are behind this initiative.

There are givens.  There will never be enough computers, enough bandwidth, enough access, enough refreshing of hardware and technology, …

But, we are professionals and will do the best that we can.  We can always do more with more and we need to constantly communicate this to those who allocate monies to education.  We need to always be moving along.  To paraphrase Mr. Warlick, we cheat the kids when we don’t.

Social Bookmarks:
Blogged with the Flock Browser